A Plague to Our Democracy: Voter Suppression
Updated: Aug 14
by Lyli Chavez
The United States has a long history of minority voter suppression despite the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. The year is now 2020 and we have a historic election on the horizon. Yet, there are millions of U.S. citizens that will be unable to voice their opinions by casting a vote in the coming election. It makes no sense; voting should be as easy and convenient as possible. My hope is to shine some light on the modern day voter suppression that is happening under our noses. My goal is to get people to start paying more attention to these attacks on our democracy. No person’s vote should matter more than another’s, certainly not in a country where casting a vote is one of the most important rights that minorities fought for.
There are a variety of reasons why someone might find themselves unable to vote, but all are deliberate practices put into place by oppressive systems. When a new law is signed that strips thousands of people of the right to vote, it is no unintentional consequence. The most rampant methods of voter suppression can be categorized under the following: Voter ID Laws, Voter Registration Restrictions, Voter Purges, Felony Disenfranchisement, and gerrymandering.
A large chunk of citizens who cannot vote fall under the Felony Disenfranchisement category. In fact, as of 2016, 6.1 million people were unable to vote due to laws prohibiting citizens convicted of felony offenses of doing so. Twenty-eight states have laws that restrict people with a felony charge who are in prison, on parole, or on probation from voting. It’s no surprise too that these laws are disproportionately affecting elections in communities of color: "In 2018, black Americans represented 33% of the sentenced prison population (1).”
According to the Sentencing Project, “Black Americans of voting age are more than four times as likely to lose their voting rights than the rest of the adult population, with one of every 13 black adults disenfranchised nationally (2).” Thankfully, since the 2016 election there have been state governors who have reformed their state’s laws and remove barriers that lead to felony disenfranchisement, allowing millions more the ability to vote. Despite this, there are still malicious efforts to keep voter turnout low.
These days, the most undemocratic efforts of all in recent years comes from the Republican Party. The GOP’s tactics can be so blatant it makes us gasp or covert enough that we have journalists to thank for uncovering some dark truths. After the 2016 election, nine states with Republican legislators implemented laws that make it harder to vote. Georgia in particular has been in the hot seat for its prominent examples of voter restriction.
Right before the 2018 midterm election, Georgia Governor Briam Kemp put on hold the registrations of more than 53,000 of his residents because of a policy that requires your voter registration information to match exactly with other state agencies. For instance, if a hyphen is out of place or your nickname is used on your voter ID but not your driver’s license then your registration was put on hold. Take a guess at who this policy impacted the most?
Georgia’s population is 32 percent Black but of those on the list of registrations on hold, nearly 70% were Black voters (2). The real kicker is: Kemp at the time was the Georgia Secretary of State, meaning he was responsible for overseeing the upcoming election and voter registrations. As if things couldn’t get worse, the 2018 Georgia midterms saw major issues with their new voting machines, and the story was no different during the 2020 primary election which saw the same issues (3). Long waits at the polls is yet another tactic to suppress votes. No one should have to take the day without pay in to exercise their right to vote.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the voter suppression plaguing the United States’ democratic system. It’s shockingly hypocritical that a country who once cried, “no taxation without representation,” is in some parts of its nation actively attempting to limit the voices of voters. As a country, we pride ourselves for having freedom of speech, and yet there are people who deem some voices more worthy than others. I encourage everyone who’s made it to the end of this article to check your voter registration prior to any election coming up in your area. You can do so at: https://www.vote.org/am-i-registered-to-vote/.
About the Author
Lyli Chavez is a Latinx math teacher and lifelong learner. She identifies as an intersectional feminist and will continue to be an ally to those historically disenfranchised.